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Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Applied Ecology (MS)

College, School or Department Name

School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science

First Advisor

Joseph K Bump


Michael J Falkowski


Landscape structure and heterogeneity play a potentially important, but little understood role in predator-prey interactions and behaviourally-mediated habitat selection. For example, habitat complexity may either reduce or enhance the efficiency of a predator's efforts to search, track, capture, kill and consume prey. For prey, structural heterogeneity may affect predator detection, avoidance and defense, escape tactics, and the ability to exploit refuges.

This study, investigates whether and how vegetation and topographic structure influence the spatial patterns and distribution of moose (Alces alces) mortality due to predation and malnutrition at the local and landscape levels on Isle Royale National Park. 230 locations where wolves (Canis lupus) killed moose during the winters between 2002 and 2010, and 182 moose starvation death sites for the period 1996-2010, were selected from the extensive Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project carcass database. A variety of LiDAR-derived metrics were generated and used in an algorithm model (Random Forest) to identify, characterize, and classify three-dimensional variables significant to each of the mortality classes. Furthermore, spatial models to predict and assess the likelihood at the landscape scale of moose mortality were developed.

This research found that the patterns of moose mortality by predation and malnutrition across the landscape are non-random, have a high degree of spatial variability, and that both mechanisms operate in contexts of comparable physiographic and vegetation structure. Wolf winter hunting locations on Isle Royale are more likely to be a result of its prey habitat selection, although they seem to prioritize the overall areas with higher moose density in the winter. Furthermore, the findings suggest that the distribution of moose mortality by predation is habitat-specific to moose, and not to wolves. In addition, moose sex, age, and health condition also affect mortality site selection, as revealed by subtle differences between sites in vegetation heights, vegetation density, and topography. Vegetation density in particular appears to differentiate mortality locations for distinct classes of moose. The results also emphasize the significance of fine-scale landscape and habitat features when addressing predator-prey interactions. These finer scale findings would be easily missed if analyses were limited to the broader landscape scale alone.